The final months of the year are a time of anticipation for beloved family holidays, but they can also be a source of heightened stress for divorced parents. If you’re already experiencing friction over your custody schedule, the compromises necessary to make any joint custody holiday calendar work may seem harder to achieve than ever. Even co-parents who ordinarily maintain a mutually respectful relationship where their children are concerned can find themselves clashing over holiday visitation.
To minimize the chances of conflict during the holiday season and to preserve your rights if disagreements do occur, a detailed holiday parenting plan created in advance is an invaluable tool that allows you to set expectations and balance the child’s time with each parent. Here’s what to know:
- What Your Holiday Visitation Schedule Should Address
- What Makes a Good Holiday Parenting Plan?
- Holiday Visitation Disputes
- Answering Your Most Answered Questions About Child Custody and Holiday Visitation
Your Child’s Best Holidays Start Here
What Your Holiday Visitation Schedule Should Address
Incorporating a written holiday parenting plan in your marriage settlement agreement is strongly recommended for many reasons. It provides stability and predictability for your child, letting them know which holiday they will spend with which parent. It lets you plan ahead for special occasions with confidence because you already know when your child will be with you. It also enables you to defuse potential areas of discord by laying out specifics such as who is responsible for transporting the children between homes and when exchanges should occur. It can also include stipulations regarding acceptable conduct, such as forbidding excessive alcohol use, to ensure the safety and well-being of your child. This calendar will supersede the regular custody arrangement when the two overlap, so it’s important to think through and understand the terms of the agreement.
Dates and times included in a holiday parenting plan should include not just major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also three-day weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day, school breaks, the parents’ birthdays, the child’s birthday—in short, all holidays and dates of special significance to the family. What these may be will vary for each family. If the parents come from different religious traditions, they may find natural areas of compromise when important dates don’t conflict, or certain holidays may be more meaningful to one than the other. More often, however, parents will need to decide the most feasible strategy for sharing holidays on which they would each prefer to have their child all to themselves.
By considering the big picture well in advance, and not trying to make snap decisions when an important date is looming and tempers are flaring, you have a better chance of achieving overall balance and fairness in holiday visitation. Your plan also provides an objective benchmark for determining when one parent or the other isn’t upholding the terms of the agreement.
What Makes a Good Holiday Parenting Plan?
What constitutes a workable arrangement for sharing custody over the holidays is highly individual. When co-parents live very close, they may choose to split holidays like Thanksgiving Day, with the child spending part of the day with one parent and the rest with the other. Distance shouldn’t be the only consideration in whether that makes sense—if a child custody exchange has the potential to be acrimonious, you may want to minimize the number of handoffs during the holidays to avoid provoking anxiety and stress for your child and for yourself.
Parents may choose instead to alternate years for major holidays, so that one gets Thanksgiving and the other has Christmas during even-numbered years, and vice versa during odd-numbered years. If you’re not sure where to start, holiday parenting plan examples like this one from the California courts can provide a useful framework.
Once you have come to an agreement with your ex-spouse on an equitable division of parenting time on holidays and vacations, does that mean that your holiday visitation is set in stone? You may find that factors you didn’t anticipate, such as extended family coming to visit one year, can throw a wrench in a schedule that previously worked well. Ideally, co-parents should be able to come together to agree on a modification that works for both parties and prioritizes the best interests of their children. If not, you may need to seek mediation or court intervention to resolve disputes.
Holiday Visitation Disputes
A shared custody holiday schedule is no different from any other child custody order—a parent can’t simply ignore its provisions because it is inconvenient or doesn’t match what they wanted. If your ex isn’t following the terms of what you agreed on, the first step should always be to attempt to resolve the problem through communication. For example, a late drop-off may just be the result of bad traffic or a misunderstanding, not a willful attempt to violate the schedule. However, if you find you’re in the middle of a disagreement that you can’t find a solution to on your own, there are resources available to help.
One option, if both parents are willing to work together but are having trouble finding common ground, is to work with a family court facilitator or mediation service. This can be much easier and less expensive than litigating over holiday visitation—though that may be necessary in instances when one party is flagrantly violating the existing order. This is another reason why having a clear and detailed order is critical. If you must rely on the court to enforce the custody order you already have in place, that clarity will make the obligations on both sides unambiguous and prevent avoidable stress.
Helping Your Family Navigate the Holidays Post-Divorce
The holidays should be a time of joy, not of increased tension. If you need help creating or modifying a holiday visitation plan, the experienced family law attorneys at Hoover Krepelka can help. Schedule a consultation with an attorney by filling out the form below today.
FAQs On Child Custody, Visitation, and Holiday Parenting Plan
1. What should I do if the other parent violates the holiday visitation schedule in California?
If the other parent violates the holiday visitation schedule in California, you should first attempt to resolve the issue through communication. If that fails, consider seeking legal remedies, such as filing a motion with the court to enforce the existing custody order.
2. Can holiday visitation schedules in California be modified if one parent wants to relocate during the holidays?
Holiday visitation schedules in California can be modified if one parent wants to relocate during the holidays. However, the requesting parent must provide a compelling reason for the modification, and it should align with the child’s best interests.
3. Are there any resources or mediation services available in California to help parents resolve holiday visitation disputes?
Yes, in California, there are mediation services and family court facilitators available to help parents resolve holiday visitation disputes. These resources can assist parents in reaching mutually agreeable solutions without the need for costly litigation.